A Deer Park man accused of murdering a witness in an assault case against him will avoid the death penalty if convicted because prosecutors mismanaged the case, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Spokane County prosecutors failed to disclose for months pertinent statements from 56-year-old suspect Christopher H. Devlin’s alleged accomplice that raised questions about where the slaying occurred. Although a legal technicality, the statements from co-defendant Carl A. Hoskins, 57, that the victim, 52-year-old Daniel D. Heily, of Chattaroy, was killed in Stevens County instead of Spokane County are critical to the question of where Devlin should be tried. Devlin’s lawyers weren’t told of the discrepancy until months after he requested to move his case to Stevens County.
Meanwhile, Spokane County spent tens of thousands of dollars on defense lawyers qualified for death penalty cases, and a legal debate raged over which county would hold the expensive trial.
Hoskins’ statements about the location of the murder could have been used to support Devlin’s change-of-venue request, lawyers Mark Vovos, of Spokane, and Roger Hunko, of Yakima, argued.
Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque agreed, ruling Wednesday that the mismanagement by prosecutors was inadvertent but affected Devlin’s right to a fair trial.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he’ll talk to Heily’s family before deciding whether to appeal Leveque’s decision.
“It’s very important for us to try to do what the victims want,” Tucker said.
Deputy prosecutors Daly Nagy and Larry Steinmetz did not mismanage the case, Tucker said. Tucker said he didn’t know why his office didn’t disclose Hoskins’ statements immediately.
Spokane County prosecutors filed intent to seek the death penalty against Devlin in August 2008. He’s accused in the shooting death of Heily, who disappeared on May 13, 2008, the night before Heily was to testify against Devlin at a second-degree assault trial. Devlin was accused of assaulting Heily, who was disabled.
Heily’s body was found in the cab of his pickup behind a Deer Park liquor store on May 14, 2008. Hoskins and Devlin were arrested that night. The slaying qualified for the death penalty because the victim was a state witness.
Devlin, going against the advice of his attorney at the time, refused to waive the 30-day notice required to seek the death penalty, which defense attorneys typically do to allow more time for a death penalty defense.
But Devlin made that decision thinking that Hoskins wasn’t cooperating with investigators, when prosecutors should have already disclosed statements indicating otherwise, according to a statement from John Rodgers, head of the Spokane County public defenders office.
If Devlin is convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, he could spend life in prison without parole.
Hoskins had faced the same charge but has been offered a plea deal for second-degree assault if he testifies against Devlin. He left jail on Aug. 31 and will be sentenced to 27 months in prison with credit for time served if he continues cooperating, according to court documents.
Devlin’s trial is set to begin July 19.